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Fatal fall from boat in marina yard

In August 2023, a man died when he fell while working on a boat on a hardstand area at a marina. Early investigations indicate he fell to the ground after falling from a ladder at the rear of the boat.

Safety issues

People accessing or working on vessels on hardstands can be exposed to serious risks of falls. Before commencing work, you must identify all locations and tasks that could create fall risks, including access to the areas where work is to be carried out. Key things to look for include but are not limited to:

  • edges
  • holes and openings
  • levels - where levels change and workers or others may be exposed to a fall from one level to another
  • the ground - the evenness and stability of the ground for safe support of a scaffold or work platform.

Other risks associated with accessing vessels on hardstands can include:

  • the type of work carried out
  • the design of the system used stabilise the vessel
  • the use, handling and storage of tools and equipment.

Ways to manage health and safety

Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who manage the business. If an incident occurs, you’ll need to show the regulator that you’ve used an effective risk management process. This responsibility is covered by your primary duty of care in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

Use the hierarchy of controls to help decide how to eliminate and reduce risks in your place of work. The hierarchy of controls ranks types of control methods from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. It’s a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing risks. You must work through the hierarchy of controls when managing risks, with the aim of eliminating the hazard, which is the most effective control.

Possible control measures to prevent similar incidents

A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) has a duty to control the risk of falls associated with vessels on hardstands. PCBUs must consider various risk controls and choose those that most effectively eliminate or minimise the risk in the circumstances.

Before accessing vessels on hardstands, a competent person should perform a risk assessment to identify areas where there is a risk of a fall. Particular focus should be placed on identifying and controlling risks where work or other activity is to be completed and the position of the access to and from the vessel.

Managing the risks of falls with vessels on hardstands may require the implementation of a combination of controls. This can include but not limited to:

  • using higher order engineering controls such as purpose designed scaffold systems, mobile scaffold or portable stair system that incorporates work platforms or landings and guardrails
  • if scaffolding is used, ensuring it is erected by a competent person and complies with the Scaffolding code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.63 MB), with safe access and egress from the scaffold provided
  • ensuring guardrail or edge protection systems are capable of sustaining the loads and have a top rail, mid-rail and a bottom rail or toe board, noting typical edge protection on many types of vessels (e.g. the gunwales and handrails) are not usually designed the same as land-based situations where guard rails are used to control the risk of a fall - the height of the top rail or gunwale is often less than the minimum height of 900mm commonly specified for edge protection
  • using portable platform step ladders (step platforms) – these incorporate a platform with a guardrail where an employee can stand and use both hands to work. While the work should only be light duty, this is a preferred option to other types of portable ladders
  • using a travel restraint (work positioning) system which controls a person’s movement by physically preventing them from reaching a position at which there is a risk of a fall
  • if it is not reasonably practicable to provide a work positioning system such as a restraint technique, providing a fall arrest system
  • where single and extension ladders are used to gain access onto a vessel, ensuring the ladder is secured in place
  • ensuring ladders used for access to and from a vessel incorporate a step-through design to prevent workers stepping off sideways from the ladder
  • ensuring equipment is fit for purpose and inspected, maintained and used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, including for the load rating and set up requirements (e.g. on firm, level ground)
  • ensuring supports for hardstands are protected from weather events, impact from other vehicles and tampering (i.e. fitted with a lock out system)
  • ensuring a well-designed traffic management plan is in place (including the operation of mobile plant in the vicinity of vessels) and re-assessed on a regular basis
  • establishing exclusion zones to prevent persons entering areas where work at heights may be occurring (e.g. falling objects control measure)
  • preventing access to areas without adequate control measures to prevent a fall
  • good housekeeping, including keeping the work environment tidy and free from obstructions or debris that may cause slips, trips or falls.

If a risk remains, it must be minimised so far as reasonably practicable by using personal protective equipment (PPE), such as:

  • travel restraint and fall arrest systems, which are primarily a form of personal protective equipment but also rely on engineering controls (i.e. anchorage point strength, harness and lanyard design) and administrative controls (e.g. making sure the lanyard is connected and not too long)
  • non-slip footwear.

Administrative control measures and PPE rely on human behaviour and supervision. If used on their own, they are least effective in minimising risks. Some risk control measures cannot be simply categorised under only one hierarchy of control category. Control measures should be reviewed regularly to make sure they are effective and work as planned.

More information

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